Words: Simon Button; pictures: Sarah Louise Bennett
When Steps hit the road they don’t just put on a show, they throw a party.
For the first of two appearances at London’s O2 on their What The Future Holds tour, they were missing a hostess: Faye was isolating after testing positive for COVID. The next night Faye was back but Lee was off for the same reason.
Sadly, the group announced today (Monday 29 November) that further positive Covid-19 cases in the touring party have made the rest of the tour "impossible", and the final shows are being rescheduled for 2022.
But it was still one helluva party with the best playlist imaginable - a celebration of the awesome power of pop music as around 20,000 fans sang their hearts out and Claire, H, Lisa, and Lee helped us forget all the uncertainty swirling around in the world for two euphoric hours.
Some of the vocals were a bit pitchy and some of the costume choices were a bit tacky, with H looking very odd in very tight shorts. But he looked great in a frock for the period drama couture of 'It’s The Way You Make Me Feel' and elsewhere they nailed 60s checkerboard chic and red pleather trench coats, plus a Steps concert is meant to be fun, not a fashion show.
No expense was spared on the set (a series of screens and stairways) or the backing dancers. And no song you wanted to hear was missing from the setlist.
Opening with 'What The Future Holds' itself and closing with 'Tragedy', they included lots of newbies like 'Take Me For A Ride', 'Heartbreak In This City' (with Michelle Visage guesting via video), and the fantastic 5 Star cover 'The Slightest Touch'.
Mashing up '5, 6, 7, 8' with Deee-Lite’s 'Groove Is In The Heart' was a stroke of genius, as was framing 'Better The Devil You Know' with Madonna’s 'Vogue' and rewriting the rap to namecheck Britney, Whitney, J. Lo et al.
Pining for more oldies? No problem. 'Heartbeat', 'One For Sorrow', 'Stomp', 'Summer Of Love' etc were all delivered with respect, not dispensed with in one of those pesky medleys many long-lasting bands often resort to.
No spring chickens, the Stepsters can still bust the dance moves. Their second coming, after an initial split in 2001 and a reunion in 2011, has been every bit as cheering as Take That’s. And the cheers that greeted H’s heartfelt speech about gay pride prove that the times have changed as much as Steps have remained one of Britain’s best-ever pop groups.
Talking of pop sensations, support was supplied by the wonderful Sophie Ellis-Bextor, who did her own take on Madonna with a reverent cover of 'Like A Prayer' - a daring move that illustrated just how underrated she is as a vocalist.
At 30 minutes her set was as short and sweet as her legs are long and lithe, packing in the likes of 'Take Me Home' and 'Crying At The Discotheque' before ending with a rousing 'Murder On The Dancefloor'.
Most remarkable of all, it was just Sophie on stage - no dancers, no backing band, just a girl in killer heels with hilarious banter and tons of energy.
Thanks to her Kitchen Disco during lockdown and her 24-hour danceathon for Children In Need, she isn’t just one of our finest pop stars, she’s also a national treasure. About time too.
The Attitude December issue is out now.